By Larry Peterson
During the early morning hours of November 24, 1906, a ship quietly slid against the ebb-tide waters of the Narrows and entered New York harbor. Onboard were almost 2000 people, mostly immigrating Europeans. Through the emerging light of the new dawn, the Statue of Liberty came into view. The appearance of the great icon had them mesmerized. They had arrived at their new home, America.
Among the people on board was a little girl from Hungaria. Her name was Julia, and she was four years old. She held a small rag doll tightly in her arms. At that moment in time, it was the only link she had to security and happiness.
Eight days earlier, Julia had hugged her poppa goodbye. She remembered his stubbly beard tickling her face and how he had reached into the pocket of his big wool overcoat and pulled out a surprise. It was a doll. He smiled and said, “For you, Shkutabella (my little pretty). Her name is Rachel, and I made her for you. As long as you have her, I will always be with you even if I am not there. Do you understand?”
Julia nodded her head up and down, and her mom said, “Please, Bollassar, please come with us. I do not like going without you.”
“Viola, it is all right. I will be over in a year. My brother George will take care of you. It is all right. Our love will keep us close to each other.”
A week had passed, and as Viola and Julia stood on the deck, a lifeboat broke free from its support cable. It fell and hit Viola, killing her instantly. Julia’s mom had been standing next to her, and then suddenly, she was lying lifeless on the deck. The child’s young mind could not understand why her mom did not move. She screamed at her to wake up. That would never happen. As the ship docked at the pier, all Julia could feel was fear and loneliness.
At Ellis Island, a bizarre series of events saw Julia shuffled from one official to another. When a lady smiled at her, the official nearby assumed they were together and made Julia go with the lady. The woman took Julia as far as Broome and Varick Streets in lower Manhattan. She told the child to stay there and walked away. The little girl did as told, and just like that, Julia had become another abandoned child on the crowded and dangerous streets of lower Manhattan.
Little Julia, holding Rachel, had been standing in the same spot for more than an hour. She was cold, hungry, and frightened. Wiping her tears had left gray smudges across her puffy cheeks. Then her guardian angel stepped in. Turning the corner was the beat cop, Paddy Dolan. He was instantly smitten with the dark-haired, blue-eyed child and asked her her name. Hesitatingly she said, “Julia.”
The policeman knelt in front of Julia and placed his hands on her tiny shoulders. He smiled at her, and for the first time since she saw her mom’s lifeless body lying next to her on the ship’s deck, she felt a sense of peace grab at her. Officer Dolan brought her with him to the station-house
After reporting in and signing out and checking as much as anyone could in 1906, Julia was declared an orphan. But this orphan was not going to an orphanage. Paddy Dolan brought her home.
Paddy’s wife, Aileen, a wee wisp of a gal from County Galway in Ireland, could not have children. Paddy and Aileen adopted Julia, and she became Julie Dolan. She grew up to be a teacher, married a man named Tommy O’Rourke, (also a policeman), and they had three children, two boys and a girl. The girl was named Viola.
On Thanksgiving day, 1951, Julia, her daughter Viola, and Viola’s four-year-old daughter, Karen, went to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They stood in the crowd at 63rd Street and Central Park West, and, as Santa passed by, Viola suggested that they go to the Squire’s Restaurant a few blocks away and get some hot chocolate.
Karen was holding Rachel, Julia’s doll. Karen loved the doll and, in a moment of weakness, grandma Julia had allowed her to take the doll with her to the parade. Rachel had not been out of the house in over forty years.
They sat in a booth, sipping their hot chocolate, and Karen placed Rachel on the table. Julia reached over and fingered the doll lovingly. Suddenly a man stood by their table. He was old and weathered and quite nervous. Julia turned her head and looked up at him. Instantly, a chill ran down her spine. The man pointed to the doll and nervously said, “Excuse me…is..is that doll’s name, Rachel?”
Not seeing her mother turning pale, Viola looked at him and answered, “Why yes, how could you know such a thing?”
As tears fell from the old man’s eyes, he looked at Julia and softly said, “Is it really you, Shkutabella?”
Julia jumped from her seat and threw her arms around the old man. “Oh Poppa, Poppa, Poppa. I can’t believe it. Yes, it is. It is. It is ME.”